Leopard (Bao)

Rank:  Blue (Di Wu Ji)
Elements:  Water, Mirror, Mercury

Although an external animal, the leopard does not have as much mass as the tiger.  Therefore it can't crush its prey like a tiger.  Instead, it relies on speed and agression to make up for the shortfall.  The leopard attacks with a relentless series of attacks, unconcerned about blocking or being hit.  "Why block when I can hit" sums this up pretty well.  Highly ferocious, this form of fighting has no time or need for rooted stances.  The only reason the leopard would root a foot is to get a better push off when it leaps at an opponent.

Why does the leopard de-emphasize blocking?  Because it is an inherently slow action.  You have to see the attack coming in, move your arm quickly enough to intercept the attack, and then actually deflect the strike, all in 3/10ths of a second or less.  The leopard capitalizes on this in two ways.  First, the all-out attack of the leopard means the defender must devote all of his attention to blocking and maintaining some level of balance rather than counter-attacking.  Secondly, eventually one or more of the leopard attacks will get through by overloading the opponent's defensive abilities.

The main hand strike used in the leopard style is the "leopard paw".  This is formed by bending the fingers into a half-fist so that the second row of knuckles, the "door-knockers", is exposed.  Because of the relative fragility of the bone on the knuckles, the leopard paw is never used on the skull, only on soft targets like the top lip (philtrum), neck and throat area, and ribs.

Traditionally, the leopard is thought to develop muscle.  In this context, possibly the Masters were referring to what we would now call fast-twitch muscle, the speed-oriented muscle fiber.  The delivery of explosive force from a tiger is heavily reliant upon its size and short thick muscle mass in order to overpower its prey.  However, the leopard's body structure is comprised of smooth, long toned muscle encompassed within a fast frame.  The leopard will always use lightening fast speed and footwork to produce power and strength.

The Shaoilin practitioner when developing the leopard style techniques will not emit solid power which is tense and forceful, instead, will produce loose, relaxed whip like techniques which is generated by using balance and speed, flexibility, agility, and utilizing energy from the hips.

The original Shaolin Monks chose this animal to mediate between the massive strength of the tiger and the quick penetrating force of the crane.  The leopard practitioner aims to develop both physical strength and speed better known as "li" by the Chinese and represents an external form of conditioning for the skin, tendons, bone and muscle.  With the leopard style of training, there is little internal Qi (Chi) generating benefits since chi development is promoted with slow precise movements.  However, with li energy, the valuable benefits here, are the external fighting techniques.

The leopard stylist rather than blocking and counter-striking will use deflection against an oncoming blow by using the forearm as well as a punching technique which simultaneously drives into the opponent.  This type of movement uses a change in angle from the oncoming strike to find the opponent's weak area.

The footwork associated with this style utilizes quick and short stances which are stable enough to produce strength and balance in order to change direction quickly and easily.

The areas in which the leopard techniques focus primarily on are the face, neck and torso.  The areas of focus with the leopard fist may be too small to reach with a regular fist, however, one technique known as "The Leopard Plays With A Ball" uses a regular closed fist that strikes into the opponent's face or head like a bouncing ball, thus executing a groin kick at the same time.

The leopard spirit is similiar to that of the tiger when considering ferocity, however, the fundamental difference is the speed of the form.  Overall the participant when practicing these types of techniques, stands to gain speed with a striking fist as well as fast footwork.  Other benefits are strength within the stances and tremendous power and force.